Christopher Reeve, a veteran actor who was best known for playing Superman, died on Oct. 10 of heart failure. He was 52.
The native New Yorker was only nine years old when he first tread the boards at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J., during a production of “Yeoman of the Guard.” After graduating from Cornell University, Reeve played the evil Ben Harper on the CBS soap opera “Love of Life.” He studied at The Juilliard School (his roommate was Robin Williams), and landed his first Broadway role in “A Matter of Gravity,” a play starring Katharine Hepburn.
Although he was relatively unknown at the time, Reeve’s handsome face and athletic, 6-foot-4-inch body made him the ideal choice for the title role in the 1978 movie “Superman.” He performed most of his own stunts and portrayed the Man of Steel in three sequels. Not wanting to be typecast as a superhero, Reeve next portrayed a time-traveling playwright in the 1980 romance “Somewhere in Time,” a bumbling actor in the 1992 farce “Noises Off…,” an American politician in the 1993 Merchant Ivory period piece “The Remains of the Day,” and a famous war reporter in the 1994 political comedy “Speechless.”
Reeve’s professional and personal life took an unexpected turn in 1995. While riding in an equestrian competition in Culpeper, Va., he was thrown from his horse. The accident fractured the top two vertebrae in his neck, damaged his spinal cord and left him a quadriplegic. Determined to walk again, Reeve endured years of operations and physical therapy. He eventually regained sensation in his index finger, his left leg and areas of his left arm.
Reeve then went to Washington, where he lobbied Congress for better insurance protection of catastrophic injuries. He campaigned for an increase in funding for stem cell research in the hope that scientists may one day develop treatments and cures for paralysis. With his wife Dana, he opened the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center, a facility in Short Hills, N.J., that teaches paralyzed people how to live more independent lives.
Reeve also returned to show business. He made his directorial debut in 1997 with “In the Gloaming,” an HBO film that received five Emmy nominations and won four Cable Ace Awards. The following year, Reeve acted in a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic “Rear Window,” a performance that earned him a Screen Actors Guild award for best actor. He shared his life story in the books “Still Me” and “Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life”; the audio versions, which Reeve narrated, received Grammy nominations. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.
Reeve was receiving treatment for a severely infected pressure wound on Oct. 9 when he suffered a cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma. He is survived by his wife and three children, Matthew, 25, Alexandra, 21, and Will, 12.